From the January-February 2017 issue of News & Letters
by Franklin Dmitryev
The lightning move by Republicans in Congress to prepare to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or Obamacare—before Donald Trump even took office, with only the vaguest idea of what is to replace it, and with full knowledge that a large majority of Americans oppose the repeal of its most important provisions—gave a sign of how far the new single-party government intends to roll the clock back, with dizzying speed.
The coming months promise a reactionary blitzkrieg by Congress and Trump unrivaled since the post-Reconstruction assault on African Americans and labor. With counter-revolution in the saddle, fascism is gathering its forces to capture state power across the globe.
At the same time, new and continued stirrings of revolt indicate that it will be no cakewalk. Thousands of students walked out of high schools to join protests on the illegitimate president’s Inauguration Day. Millions came to the women’s marches the next day across the U.S. and the world. The one in D.C. attracted three times as many people as the inauguration. (See “Democracy in the streets votes Trump out!”) The movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline continues and similar struggles have been started; Black Lives Matter continues, the Fight for $15 minimum wage continues.
‘NOT MY PRESIDENT’
In fact, the backlash to all the revolt is what Trump embodied and exploited—as seen in the hate crimes that accompanied the campaign and spiked after the election, and in his ability to direct his Twitter mob in racist, sexist attacks on his critics.
He masterfully exploited white middle-class fears of a future where they are no longer the majority and where their economic position is put in question by automation and globalization, and many men’s fears about losing their dominance over women and their own “masculine” identity. That got channeled into scapegoating and hatred of immigrants, Muslims, Transgender people, women, Mexican Americans, African Americans—and pining for a mythic “great” past.
We are supposed to forget about what was truly great in U.S. history—the other America, the freedom struggles. One of the new administration’s first acts was to take down government websites on Native Americans, LGBTQ rights, civil rights, people with disabilities and climate change.
NEVER FORGET THE OTHER AMERICA
Where the high point of freedom in the 19th-century U.S. was the Abolitionist movement of Blacks and whites, culminating in the Civil War, some in the Trump camp have proposed repealing part of the ensuing Constitutional amendments that outlawed slavery and declared equal rights and citizenship for African Americans.
Labor struggles over a century ago won restrictions on child labor, working hours and unsafe working condition; all are opposed by some now in office. Even women’s vote—won by decades of struggle—has been called into question by alt-right fascists.
Trump and the far Right certainly do not understand—and do not want us to understand—that the touchstone of U.S. history is the liberation struggle of Black masses and its relationship to labor and other freedom struggles, from slave revolts to Reconstruction, from the Black dimension in Populism to anti-imperialism and the Garvey movement, from the self-organizing of industrial workers in the 1930s to the Freedom Now movement of the 1960s and Black Lives Matter today. They are desperate to keep Black masses separate from white labor, because turning points in our history have come only when they coalesce.
The most reactionary elements have always set themselves against these movements, from the South’s rebellion to defend slavery to the many incarnations of the Ku Klux Klan, which violently attacked Reconstruction and in 2016 endorsed Donald Trump. Incited by Trump’s win, lawmakers in five states pushed bills to criminalize protest, including North Dakota’s “okay to run over protesters” bill and Indiana’s “police can kill road blockaders” bill.
Capitalism’s decay has nourished the racist rage festering since the election of a Black president, just as the 1930s Great Depression fed Nazism—which, like Trump, railed against financial and corporate elites but represented them.
FEAR OF A FALLING PROFIT RATE
The mid-1970s economic crisis was a structural change brought about by the fall in the rate of profit. The crisis drove the ruling class to an economic, political, and ideological restructuring that people now generally call neoliberalism, headed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Neoliberalism partially destroyed the welfare state, labor unions, and taxes and regulations on corporations in a successful effort to shore up the rate of profit. Large-scale state intervention in the economy never ended, as seen for example in gargantuan military spending, massive subsidies for industries such as fossil fuel, nuclear power, and agribusiness, and the vast expansion of the prison industrial complex, followed in 2008-09 by the bailout of Wall Street and auto companies.
While neoliberalism temporarily bolstered the profit rate, it plunged again in 2007 and remains low historically. Because of Trump’s ranting about international trade, his accession to power has been hailed as the end of neoliberalism. In reality he represents very little change in its key features, except a turn away from free trade. Even there, trade agreements are about much more than free trade of goods, and there is little evidence that Trump opposes the empowerment of corporations enshrined in them.
The Carrier deal speaks volumes. While most workers will certainly not get even this amount of attention, it’s astonishing that Trump admitted in a speech that he had forgotten about his promise to prevent Carrier from moving 2,000 jobs from Indiana to Mexico until he saw on TV a recording of himself making the promise! He had also said that any company that moves jobs abroad would have to pay.
After the deal, Carrier is still moving 1,000 jobs to Mexico plus getting $7 million in tax breaks. The other 800 jobs can be moved at a later date when Trump has forgotten again—if they still exist after the automation that the tax breaks will fund. Chuck Jones, the union leader at Carrier, began getting death threats, incited by Trump’s Twitter attacks on him for pointing out that Trump exaggerated the number of jobs saved and more will be lost through automation.
Since that deal, Trump has taken credit for every company’s announcement that they are not cutting jobs, and companies are playing along to curry favor. However, when it comes to coal and steel jobs, Trump cannot magically overrule capitalism’s “creative destruction.”
‘FOR’ THE WORKERS; ‘FOR’ THE WOMEN
Trump’s lie that he is “for” white workers has already turned into direct attacks on the working class, with the harshest attacks aimed at immigrants, Blacks, Latinos and women. Trump, his nominees and Congress are getting ready to end or sabotage Obamacare, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security—for the workers! They want to gut labor laws—for the workers! Cut taxes for the rich and social services for everyone else—for the workers! Wipe out access to birth control, abortion, reproductive health services, Planned Parenthood—for women!
Repeal of the ACA could result in 36,000 deaths a year. If insurance companies are once more allowed to use “preexisting conditions” to deny coverage, and if Medicaid and/or Medicare is cut, then health insurance and jobs will be put out of reach for many people with disabilities. Many will be forced to live in institutions, while hundreds of thousands of personal care assistants and homecare workers will lose their jobs.
Congress and Trump are moving fast precisely because they know they have no mandate. That so many people voted for Trump is chilling, yet he failed to get a plurality, let alone a majority. Even if we disregard the fact that nearly half of eligible voters did not vote, the millions of people denied the vote because of past felony convictions, the racially biased procedures used to eliminate registrations and make it harder for certain groups of people to vote, the roles of Vladimir Putin, the FBI and sexism, Trump still only won due to the Electoral College, which was invented by the Founding Fathers to inhibit democracy and above all to protect the institution of slavery.
NEEDED: ‘ONE PERSON, ONE VOTE’
The failure to abolish the Electoral College and the Senate’s violation of “one person, one vote” is a stain on so-called democracy. The Supreme Court exploited it in 2000 to select George W. Bush as president. But from slavery through Jim Crow to today’s mass incarceration and voter suppression, democracy has never fully included the whole population.
The reality is that Trump lost by over 2.8 million votes. Total votes for Republican candidates for the House of Representatives are perennially millions less than those for Democrats. If Senate seats were apportioned by population, Republicans would have only 45% of them after this election. And yet, once Trump’s Supreme Court pick is rubber-stamped, the minority party will have single-party control of the federal government and about half the states.
That is exactly what they have been aiming for since the Tea Party wave of 2010, including their gambit of slamming the door on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland’s face and their government shutdowns. Now that they have succeeded, they will work to cement that single-party rule by attacking voting rights and suppressing protest, among other measures.
ENSHRINING THE RULE OF THE 1%
Trump is assembling the whitest and most male cabinet since 1989 and the richest cabinet ever, stuffed with billionaires, several of whom have ties to Wall Street. They are anti-immigrant and anti-Gay; anti-woman and Islamophobic; pro-racist, anti-labor and anti-public education. Many are climate change deniers.
Although the Obama administration, which did more to slow global warming than all other administrations combined, still came nowhere close to what is needed and still pushed the “all of the above” energy policy allowing fatal dependence on fossil fuels, the Trump administration aims to reverse even what Obama did.
Trump’s stance on human rights is clear from the blessing he gave to kindred spirit President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and his thousands of assassinations outside of the law. Trumps nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, praised for “deep knowledge” of foreign affairs, pretended ignorance in his Senate confirmation hearing about war crimes and human rights violations in Syria and Russia. He did not mention that ExxonMobil, which he headed, essentially has its own armed forces that commit massive human rights violations.
For the home front, the Environmental Protection Agency is to be led by Scott Pruitt, a climate denier who tries to remove all environmental regulations.
Trump’s pick for Attorney General is Sen. Jeff Sessions. During a career focused on subjugating Black people, he has made time to attack people with disabilities, LGBTQ people and women.
This decaying system’s deterioration of thought has led to the appointment of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser—that is, the person who is supposed to make sense of intelligence reports is a hysterical believer and spreader of absurd conspiracy theories and fake news stories.
RESIST THE IDEOLOGICAL ONSLAUGHT
This is not just about foreign policy. It is about subordinating objective facts and conditions to ideology in all spheres. Facts alone cannot defeat ideology. Fascism doesn’t care about facts, science, history, reasoned arguments. What matters is the manipulative appeal to irrationality, emotions and prejudice.
Praise of Trump’s victory poured in from most of the world’s leading counter-revolutionaries, from Bashar al-Assad to Putin, from France’s Marine Le Pen to Hungary’s Viktor Orban, as well as a big “heil” at home from neo-Nazi Richard Spencer. A seismic shift of world alliances has put Russia and the U.S. at the center of a grand world coalition of counter-revolution, but it has its limits. When nationalists fall out, war clouds form. Already China is alarmed by saber-rattling such as Tillerson’s call to block China from access to islands it has built in the South China Sea.
The Labor Secretary nominee is Andrew Puzder, head of the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurant chains. Two-thirds of their women employees reported facing sexual harassment at work. The Labor Department found at least one wage-and-hour violation in 60% of their investigations at his restaurants. Thousands of fast food workers protested at his chain’s restaurants in 26 cities on Jan. 12.
While Trump has said wages are too high and his entire cabinet-to-be opposes raising the minimum wage, the clearest mandate from the election is a living wage. Wherever raising the minimum was on the ballot, it won: Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington. South Dakotans defeated a measure for sub-minimum youth wages. Arizona and Washington voted in sick-leave rights. Because of the movement for a living wage, including protests and strikes in over 300 cities in 2016, the minimum wage was raised in 25 cities and states last year.
More battles are gearing up, such as the move to provide sanctuaries to undocumented immigrants now threatened with mass expulsion. The women’s marches are only the beginning of fightback against the Trump/Pence/Congress drive to abolish abortion rights, defund Planned Parenthood and undermine access to birth control.
PHILOSOPHY: THE CRUCIAL ELEMENT
Since Trump’s campaign was directed against these movements, it is a diversionary abstraction to say at this moment that there is no difference between the two major parties. That only helps normalize his far-Right racist, sexist politics.
However, fighting the threat of fascism must not be sidetracked into supporting the Democrats or merely defending the institutions of liberal democracy, though they are under attack. Those institutions necessarily bend to economic power and are adapting ever more to totalitarian tendencies. Without a comprehensive philosophy, all the diverse struggles may come together without fighting comprehensively to uproot fascism. Without a revolutionary perspective, the capitalist institutions become the focus, not the self-activity of the masses in motion.
Ideas, philosophy, are the crucial element that would help activism achieve historic continuity, coalesce into a transformative movement, coming face to face with the enemy ideology and not just with its political moves. It is impossible to destroy fascism, the most brutal expression of capitalism, without a revolutionary uprooting of capitalism itself.